Drilling in the deep, oil-rich Marcellus Shale pockets will mean new jobs – possibly 50,000 of them – and $1 million in revenue for other businesses, state lawmakers were told Wednesday at a hearing in the Cambria County seat.
But will they be jobs for Pennsylvanians, or as is already happening, workers from Texas or Oklahoma trained in drilling?
And if the horizontal drilling is permitted on state-owned land, will it be a boon or an environmental mess?
Oil companies were pressed for answers Wednesday at a hearing held by a state legislative committee in the Ebensburg Borough Building.
“We want you to create jobs,” said Camille “Bud” George, D-Clearfield, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee majority chairman, who co-chaired the hearing.
“But when the pipeline is in, then where are the jobs? What happens when you are gone?” he asked one gas company executive who testified at the hearing.
“We have to be certain you don’t leave an environmental disaster,” George said.
Pennsylvania economic officials spoke in support of Marcellus Shale drilling, with Penn State Cooperative Extension official James R. Ladlee calling Marcellus gas drilling “the potential to become the single largest impact of anything ever experienced in the region.
“The magnitude of this opportunity could not only transform this region of the state within the Marcellus footprint, but will provide the foundational resources to greatly enhance the overall economic health and job creation opportunities for the state,” he told the legislators.
Requested by state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor, the hearing brought out anecdotal evidence of economic stimuli in areas where drilling has begun.
But Burns and gas company spokespeople said they knew that the number of companies moving to Pennsylvania will be “steady but slow.”
One reason is the need for training, witnesses said.
“From a policy standpoint view, you can anticipate (the number of) companies moving into Appalachia will be steady but slow. The move will be a function of ability to staff with the local labor market and the rate at which operators ramp up,” said Eric Conrad, representing the North Central Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Industry Workforce Partnership.
Rep. John Pallone of Westmoreland County said that everyone must remember that the Marcellus Shale drilling effort “is an industry in evolution.”
He cited a Sony electronics plant in his district, saying that at first it had foreign workers, but evolved to Pennsylvania workers.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We already know the effects of training,” he said.
Some legislators wondered out loud if they should require gas and oil companies to provide job training as a condition of being allowed to drill on state-owned land.
Others did not hide their impatience with drilling companies.
“You have elaborately described the problem in that we have jobs that have disappeared, but you have not told me where these jobs you predict are coming from,” George said.
“I was driving trucks when you were just a gleam in your old man’s eye, so you don’t need to tell me what truck driving is,” he told the table of gas and oil company representatives.
“So tell us how we’re going to produce these jobs. This oil drilling alone isn’t going to create doodle,” George said.
After the meeting, Burns said he was pleased with the hearing he sponsored, pointing out that six legislative chairmen attended
“These were important topics to get on the table and discuss,” he said.
“I’m very pleased with the range of people who attended and who testified,” he said.
“Marcellus Shale provides my legislative district and much of Pennsylvania with a unique opportunity for economic growth.”